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Business, Entrepreneurs, Numbers, STEM

NUMBERS: Distracted Walking Accidents On The Rise – Urban Periscope to the Rescue

Image of urban periscope jacket over iPhone (Source: Urban Periscope)

Image of urban periscope jacket over iPhone (Source: Urban Periscope)

Earlier this month I was introduced to urban periscope – a new device or sleeve for your iPhone that slides over the phone case with a lens on top like a periscope. The firm by the same name proposes that their device redirects your vision 90 degrees with a periscope so you can text and walk without bumping into anyone.

First, my discussion of the urban periscope is not an April Fool’s joke. Second, the product targets digital natives who cannot let go of their smart phones for just a few seconds or minutes to walk down the hall, across the street, to the bathroom, or any place else. You’ve seen these folks. You may even be one of them.

Surfing the web for more information about the urban periscope, I discovered something more compelling: the number of accidents spawned from the use of mobile devices by pedestrians has been growing for more than 10 years. Researchers at Ohio State University found that between 2004 and 2010 the number of pedestrians killed while using a cell phone increased from less than 1% to 3.6% (Nasar and Troyer as cited in Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, 2014).

Most of us are familiar with the problems and challenges of using mobile devices while driving. However, we probably don’t view distracted walking in the same context. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports the following stats for pedestrian deaths during the first half of 2015, the percentage change from 2014 and rate per 100,000 people for selected states [Ref 1]:

  • California: 347, up 7%, 0.89
  • Florida: 273, down 4%, 1.35
  • Texas: 235, up 1%, 0.86
  • New York: 129, up 22%, 0.65
  • Arizona: 87, up 12%, 1.27
  • Oregon: 42, up 100%, 1.04
  • Washington: 41, up 28%, 0.57
  • Nevada: 24, up 20%, 0.83

While I admit to texting and walking, I tell myself, “I don’t do it that often, and I am more inclined to step-over to the side of an aisle, side-walk or room and handle my business. However, those persons who are prone to this tech habit may benefit from using the urban periscope.” Texting while walking decreases the ability to walk in a straight line and slows down pace significantly, according to a research study published in PLOS One. [Ref 2] More conscious text-walkers, such as myself, tend to slow down and lift their feet higher to reduce falls or bumps along the way.

Distracted walker in crosswalk

Distracted walker in crosswalk

A 2014 study from Safe Kids Worldwide report that 40% of teens say they’ve been hit or nearly hit by a car, bike, or motorcycle while walking. The primary culprit: distraction from a mobile device. Over 1,000 teens age 13 to 18 were interviewed and researchers found that of those who said they were hit or almost hit, 47% were listening to music while crossing the road, 18% were texting, and 20% were talking on the phone. [Ref 1]

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has also been tracking distracted walking stats:

  • Teens and young adults, ages 16 to 25, were most likely to be injured as distracted pedestrians, and most were hurt while talking rather than texting. Talking on the phone accounted for 69% of injuries between 2004 and 2010. Texting accounted for 9% of injuries during the same period.
  • Distracted pedestrians may have been a contributing factor in the 4,200 pedestrian deaths and 70,000 injuries in traffic crashes in 2010, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
  • A recent study observed nearly one-third of pedestrians at 20 high-risk intersections in Seattle listening to music, texting, or using a cellphone. Those who texted took almost two seconds, or 18% longer, to cross the intersection compared with those who weren’t distracted. Those who texted were four times more likely to display at least one “unsafe crossing behavior,” such as ignoring traffic signals or failing to look both ways.
  • In a recent study that looked at headphones and pedestrian distraction, of 116 reported deaths involving pedestrians wearing headphones, 68% were male and 67% were under the age of 30. The majority of vehicles involved in the crashes were trains (55%), and 89% of the incidents occurred in urban areas. Seventy-four percent of case reports stated that the victim was wearing headphones at the time of the crash.
Streetview on iPhone using Urban Periscope device

Street view using Urban Periscope device with iPhone

That bring us back to the urban periscope. The device promises to let you text and walk safely while maintaining a view of the sidewalk in front of you. According to the company, their device is an analog phone case that uses the principles of the periscope to redirect your vision so you can look at your phone and interact with the world around you at the same time. 

The product is not yet available and is still undergoing testing and awaiting more customer info and approval. Initially, it will only be available for iPhone 6 users when it goes on sale.

Is there a market or demand for this product? That remains to be seen, however, getting true digital natives to disconnect from their smart phones and other devices doesn’t appear to be on the horizon any time soon.


  1. The Numbers Crunch: More of us are out walking but also getting hit by cars, by Foon Rhee for the Sacramento Bee, March 18, 2016, http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/foon-rhee/article66897777.html
  2. “Gait Pattern Alterations during Walking, Texting and Walking and Texting during Cognitively Distractive Tasks while Negotiating Common Pedestrian Obstacles” by License, Sammy et. al. in PLOS One, July 29, 2015,  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133281



About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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